The Knights of Columbus is the world's largest Catholic fraternal service organization. It was founded by the Venerable Father Michael J. McGivney in New Haven, Connecticut, in 1882, and named in honor of the navigator Christopher Columbus. Originally serving as a mutual benefit society to low-income immigrant Catholics, it developed into a fraternal service organization dedicated to providing charitable services, promoting Catholic education and actively defending Catholicism in various nations.
There are more than 1.8 million members in 15,000 councils, with nearly 200 councils on college campuses. Membership is limited to "practical Catholic" men aged 18 or older. Membership consists of 4 different degrees, each exemplifying a different principle of the Order. The Order is a member of the International Alliance of Catholic Knights. Most meetings follow a strict protocol based on guidelines from the National Home Office.
Councils have been chartered in the United States (including American Samoa, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands), Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, Guatemala, Panama, the Dominican Republic, the Philippines, Guam, Spain, Japan, Cuba, and most recently in Poland and Ukraine. The Knights' official junior organization, the Columbian Squires, has over 5,000 Circles.
For their support for the Church and local communities, as well as for their philanthropic efforts, the Order often refers to itself as the "strong right arm of the Church." In the 2010 fiscal year, the Order gave over US$154 million directly to charity (over $1.406 billion in charitable contributions and 653 million man hours in the last 10 years) and performed over 70 million man-hours of voluntary service. Over 413,000 pints of blood were donated. The Order's insurance program has more than $80 billion of life insurance policies in force, backed up by $15.5 billion in assets, and holds the highest insurance ratings given by A. M. Best and the Insurance Marketplace Standards Association. Within the United States on the national and state level, the Order is active in the political arena lobbying for laws and positions that uphold the Catholic Church's positions on public policy and social issues.
Many councils also have women's auxiliaries. At the turn of the 20th century two were formed by local councils and each took the name the Daughters of Isabella. Using the same name, both groups expanded and issued charters to other Circles but never merged. The newer organization renamed itself the Catholic Daughters of the Americas in 1921 and both have structures independent of the Knights of Columbus. Other groups are known as the Columbiettes. In the Philippines, the ladies' auxiliary is known as the Daughters of Mary Immaculate.
Level 1: Page
Level 2: Shield Bearer
Level 3: Swordsman
Level 4: Lancer
Level 5: Squire of the Body of Christ
The Knights' official junior organization is the Columbian Squires. Founded in 1925 in Duluth, Minnesota, this international fraternity for boys 10–18 has grown to over 5,000 circles. According to Brother Barnabas McDonald, F.S.C., the Squires' founder, “The supreme purpose of the Columbian Squires is character building.” Squires have fun and share their Catholic faith, help people in need, and enjoy the company of friends in social, family, athletic, cultural, civic and spiritual activities. Through their local circle, Squires work and socialize as a group of friends, elect their own officers, and develop into Catholic leaders.
Each Circle is supervised by a Knights of Columbus Council or Assembly, and has an advisory board made up of either the Grand Knight, the Deputy Grand Knight and Chaplain, or the Faithful Navigator, the Faithful Captain and Faithful Friar. Circles are either Council based, parish based, or school based, depending on the location of the circle and the Knight counsellors.
The Squire Roses are a youth sorority run by individual State Councils for Catholic girls between the ages of 10 and 19. They are a sister organization to the Squires. The Squire Roses were created in 1996 by adoption of the Virginia State Council of Knights of Columbus. The founder of this organization was Russell DeRose.